The Western Hockey League, with its season and playoffs abandoned due to the COVID-19 pandemic, has turned to tidying up administrative matters.
By video conferencing and online, of course.
First on the agenda Wednesday was the newly-installed WHL draft of U.S. bantam (2005 born) players from western states. The Victoria Royals took defenceman Alexander Young from Rancho Cucamonga, California, 21st overall and forward Jackson Foddrill of Colleyville, Texas, 24th overall. Young plays for the Los Angeles Junior Kings and Foddrill for the Dallas Stars Junior Elite team.
The order of the two-round U.S. Prospects Draft was decided by lottery among the 22 WHL teams. The rationale for the U.S. bantam draft is so that teams don’t have to squander high picks in the regular WHL draft on American bantam players who eventually choose the U.S. collegiate NCAA route. American players, however, can still be selected in the regular bantam draft.
“U.S. players have a number of options and they may or may not come to play in the WHL,” said Royals GM Cameron Hope.
The new draft gives WHL clubs a hedge against that.
“We had good discussions with the [Young and Foddrill] families and they are open to the idea of the WHL,” said Hope.
The Royals selected second-to-last in the first round but second in the second round and said they got the players they wanted.
“We had both in our top 10 and both have late 2005 birthdays,” said Hope.
“Alexander Young is a smooth, polished defenceman and Jackson Foddrill is the kind of currently undersized but slick, playmaking forward we have had on our roster in past seasons.”
Gracyn Sawchyn, a native of Minneapolis who is a forward with the Shattuck-St. Mary’s Sabres youth team, was selected first overall by the Red Deer Rebels.
Meanwhile, the lottery for the regular 2020 WHL bantam draft was also held Wednesday among the bottom six teams of the aborted regular season. The Regina Pats won the Connor Bedard sweepstakes and will pick first overall followed by the Prince George Cougars, Moose Jaw Warriors, Tri-City Americans, Saskatoon Blades and Red Deer.
The Pats are expected to take 14-year-old prodigy Connor Bedard of North Vancouver, who is the first player accorded exceptional status in Western Canada. That designation is for those rare players considered simply too good to play bantam hockey and who are granted special dispensation to play major-junior as 15-year-olds.
The last player granted exceptional status in Canada was Shane Wright, who was a rookie this season for the Kingston Frontenacs of the Ontario Hockey League, and eligible for the 2022 NHL Draft. Previously given exceptional player status have been John Tavares, Aaron Ekblad, Connor McDavid and Sean Day in the OHL in 2005, 2011, 2012 and 2013, respectively, and Joe Veleno in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League in 2015.
Victoria, meanwhile, will select ninth overall in the 2020 WHL bantam draft based on inverse order of the final standings. Hope said it is a deep draft.
“It’s an outstanding draft through the top 20, with good depth even after that,” said the Royals GM.
The draft was scheduled for May in Red Deer. But with no playoffs, it has been moved online to April 22.
“It’s a disappointing end to the season but we are all in this together,” said Hope.